On the international film festival circuit with Carlo Velayo
2019 has been a global whirlwind for UTS FASS Media Arts & Production and International Studies graduate Carlo Velayo.
Carlo produced the feature film Lingua Franca, which has been screening at film festivals around the world including BFI London Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival, and Venice Days. Sydney audiences can catch Lingua Franca in February 2020 as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival.
Lingua Franca is a landmark narrative feature about an undocumented Filipina immigrant transwoman in New York, by award-winning Filipina writer and director Isabel Sandoval.
“Lingua Franca has made history with Isabel being the first transwoman of colour to write, direct and headline a film at the Venice Film Festival, which is huge.”
Carlo was also deeply passionate about the story that Isabel wanted to tell.
“It's an LGBTQI+ story, about immigration, and the fear of being an immigrant in the US (and this was before Trump). Having read the script I knew I needed to be part of this."
Even if you are a documented immigrant in the US and have all the right paperwork, with all of the policies that have been introduced since 2017 there’s definitely a fear that you can’t rest on your legal status - on your official immigrant papers - because things can change so quickly. And they have.
“I met Isabel after filming in Cebu for Happy Jail (a Netflix documentary series about the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre in the Philippines, made famous by a viral video of its dancing inmates) and that’s how I got into producing Lingua Franca. It’s definitely been my favourite production that I’ve worked on so far and it has taught me a lot. It’s also the project I’m most proud of,” Carlo explains.
One of Carlo’s earlier breakthrough works with fellow UTS MAP alumni Jessica Thompson, The Light of the Moon, delved into the issue of sexual assault. World premiering at South by Southwest Festival, the film won the Narrative Feature Audience Award.
Born in the Philippines and moving to Australia when he was five years old, Carlo’s own Filipino heritage plays a big part in films he has worked on. “With both Lingua Franca and Park Avenue, we want to be able to give rise to Filipino stars. We have already secured three top Filipino stars to lead in Park Avenue.”
Carlo always had a love for film growing up and chose to study film at UTS to explore his interests further. “I think the UAI at the time was 98.7, so it was seen as prestigious to study MAP at UTS. Even though my parents were supportive of my choice, I think they always had the idea for me to be a lawyer or a doctor, so I always had that drive to be the best at school.”
“I also realised early on in my life that I can’t be a person of colour, an immigrant AND to add to that to be gay, and to not be successful.”
Thankfully Carlo found that being among filmmakers and learning about film also helped him to understand and express himself.
Film has been a way for me to explore my own sexuality, both during uni and after. Uni was instrumental in my coming out and becoming who I am.
Over the years, Carlo has clarified what is important to him and what he wants to portray on the big screen to his audiences. Working on Filipino immigrant storylines is a topic he often explores, and alongside Park Avenue, Carlo will be producing a TV series called America is in the Heart, based on the novel by Carlos Bulosan.
It has also recently been announced by SFFilm that Baptism, another upcoming project that Carlo is collaborating with Isabel Sandoval on, has been awarded the 2019 SFFilm Westridge Grant. The grant supports narrative film projects in their early stages which draw attention to social issues in today’s society.
Juggling three or four projects based all around the world at one time can be challenging, but working on multiple shows at once is normal for Carlo. He explains, “It’s really a numbers game, being a producer. You go where the funding is.”
Carlo has always been a producer, and loves what he does, but does he have any aspirations to be a screenwriter/director?
I would love to tell my Aunt’s story - she's my mum’s eldest sister - as she is the reason my family emigrated to Australia. And I’d love to tell it sooner rather than later.
Currently based in America, dividing his time between both New York and Los Angeles over the last seven years, Velayo explains that all the work he has been doing is bringing him back to Australia. “I want to see what I could expand on in terms of producing and telling LGBTQI+ stories, and making global projects, to then realise what I can bring back to Australia.”